McKeesport looks solid against strong camp competition
McKeesport encountered its first real hitting of the preseason Saturday, taking on Central Catholic on the first day of high school scrimmages in the area, and the Tigers didn't do too badly at all.
That's what McKeesport coach George Smith thought, anyway.
Don't misunderstand. Smith appeared to be as tough-minded as ever with his kids. At times, he was noticeably animated, and at others, he was quietly observant as he stood with them between plays on the new turf at Weigle-Schaeffer Memorial Stadium.
“You learn how to play at a different intensity level this time of year. This is a good experience,” Smith said. “We have a lot of sophomores, and this is the first time many of them have ever seen anything like this up close. That wasn't just a scrimmage against any ordinary team.”
Central Catholic is coming off a season to remember, taking a shot at the PIAA Class AAAA crown but losing to Philadelphia St. Joseph's Prep for the Vikings' only defeat of the season.
The Vikings won the WPIAL championship and settled for a 15-1 record after being denied their fourth state title and third since 2004.
McKeesport took a similar path but exited the postseason much earlier, losing to Penn-Trafford in the WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinals.
The Tigers play their final scrimmage Saturday against Woodland Hills.
The teams had played during the regular season the past two years. Woodland Hills features running back Miles Sanders — a Penn State recruit — and Toledo-bound wide receiver Art Thompkins.
“We're seeing some top-notch talent,” Smith said.
It has been McKeesport's way under the two-term coach, who enters his second season since returning and 30th overall.
As McKeesport's players began gathering themselves to head home, senior Ty-Wann Smith limped past Smith.
“Make sure you put ice on your ankle,” the coach told the players (both are named Smith). “If you have guts, soak it in a bucket of ice water.”
Smith, the player, studied Smith, the coach, and figured out that Smith, the coach, indeed was offering some encouragement. It was only then that Smith, the player, grinned and nodded in agreement, but it wasn't immediately known if Smith, the player, used ice or water as a remedy.
Back on the field, Smith, the coach, remained positive.
“I saw some things. It's just got to be consistent,” he said.
Smith's concerns on the offensive line were a bit tempered by what he witnessed Saturday. There was a rash of fumbles by the Tigers, the most notable after junior Khaleke Hudson ripped off a 30-yard run with the help of some flashy moves but lost the ball near the end of the play.”
“Khaleke is going to be fine, but we'll work on protecting the ball. We'll work on a lot of things,” Smith said. “I liked the double-teams at times, and I saw some good inside blocking.”
On defense, Smith was particularly impressed with the play of his cornerbacks. He singled out junior Kyreek Sayles.
“No. 23,” Smith said. “Our interior guys did a good job of pushing the plays to the outside, and that's how it's designed for our corners to come up and shut off the play. They did that OK.”
Central Catholic's roster included four players whose fathers were on NFL teams. junior Braxton Swann is the son of Steelers Hall of Famer Lynn Swan, senior Grant Foster is the son of former Steelers running back Barry Foster; junior Gunnar Frerotte and sophomore Gabe Frerotte are the sons of former Washington Redskins quarterback and Ford City product Gus Frerotte; and sophomore Jamain Stephens, the son of former Steelers first-round pick Jamain Stephens Sr.
“We expect to be better each week,” Smith said. “I hope we can improve. We've just got to get them there. Woodland Hills is a similar team to Central. They have good running backs. We've got to get the line caught up.”
Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.